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31 May 2021
27 min 39 sec
Video Overview
Maria Kozhevnikov


I will review research evidence which shows that types of meditation developed out of certain traditions such as Vajrayana Tantric Buddhism lead to heightened sympathetic activation and phasic alertness boost in focused attention), while types of meditation from other traditions such as Theravada and Mahayana elicit heightened parasympathetic activity and tonic alertness (vigilance). Such findings validate Buddhist scriptural descriptions of heightened arousal during Vajrayana practices and a calm and alert state of mind during Theravada and Mahayana types of meditation and demonstrate the importance of the cultural and philosophical context out of which the meditation practices develop. Furthermore, I will talk about neurophysiological correlates of main classes of Vajrayana practices, such as Generation stages (Deity self-visualization), Completion stages with sign (Tummo), and Completion stages without Sing (Mahamudra), and will show that Generation and Completion with sign stages produce the state of arousal and associated phasic alertness, later employed in Completion without sign culminating meditations. 

Speaker Bio: Maria Kozhevnikov

Maria Kozhevnikov is an Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore and also a Visiting Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. Maria Kozhevnikov received her Ph.D. from Technion (Israel) jointly with UC Santa Barbara. Prior to joining the National University of Singapore, she has held faculty positions at Rutgers University (NJ) and George Mason University (VA).  Her research interests focus on examining the neurocognitive bases of creativity and visualization as well as in exploring ways to boost creativity and cognitive capacities through the use of innovative technologies as well as ancient meditative practices.

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  • Good afternoon, everyone. The topic of my presentation today is Vajrayana practices the word scientific conceptualization of meditation. And I will try to show that it’s very important to encode Vajrayana in scientific consideration and research on meditation.
  • I will break down my presentation into two parts, and I will record them separately.
  • And in the first part, I will talk about neurophysiological correlates of adrionna practices and how they’re different from Theravada and Mahayana practices. And in the second part, I will talk more about advanced meditation practices such as more and more common traps. Scientific research so far has tended to study Buddhist meditation outside of its cultural and religious complex, and unfortunately, not many researchers in psychology and neuroscience recognize that Buddhism is not a homogeneous tradition, but has three branches through the calls, such as Theravada, Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, which are not the same in terms of is their philosophy or their practices. Most scientific studies on meditation so far have been largely limited to various specific types of shamatha and the past in the meditations from Theravada Mahayana Buddhist traditions, these meditations are relatively simple to master by the general population without religious background, and this is probably why they’re the most studied types of meditation.
  • A large body of studies was also conducted on mindfulness. Most scientific knowledge of meditation, including current conceptualization, and existing categorization of meditative practices comes from scientific experiments on these relatively simple types of meditation. Meanwhile, more cultural complex practices such as the mind body practices, such as Vajrayana, predominant Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist tradition, have received much less scientific attention, I will give a brief overview of three Buddhist traditions and their main practices. First is Theravada, the oldest branch of Buddhism, which follows the meditative for us tradition, it’s meditative practices, aimed at Coleman and pacifying the mind. And the person being mindful of the content content of attention as it wanders, and contemporary mindfulness shares many common elements with the person and then we have shamatha one pointed concentration or calm concentrate concentration.
  • Mahayana second tradition, it incorporates unique philosophy and a set of religious practices in addition to what is practiced by Tera Vaada. My meditative practices are quite similar to that of other practices. They also aim at calming the mind, and include both Shama then the person as well as Japanese, Chinese Chen, and as a practice.
  • And finally Vajrayana, Tibetan tantric Buddhism, which is another Taric Buddhist tradition. While it is generally accepted, genre philosophy evolved out of Ohioan and medieval India. Genre practices evolved on the diverse influences such as Hindu Tantra, and they’re quite different from those of Theravada and Mahayana. First of all, their mind-body tantric practices involve both body and mind. They aim at enhancing the mind and realization of its away quality, not justifying or calming the mind as in Theravada Mahayana.
  • NAME talks in his video about different classes of Vajrayana Meditation so I will mention them briefly here. In addition to a variety of preliminary practices, we have three main classes or stages of Vajrayana meditations. The first one generation creation or development stages, was run by chair in his video refers to these practices as curing.
  • These practices are often referred to as visualization practices. The goal of these practices is to provide perception according to much Vajrayana, during these practices one engages in meditation upon one school, or visualizes in oneself as a particular meditation, the Edom in Tibetan. Few times when I talked about these practices in my presentations, there was a surprise in the audience which seemed to be based on an assumption that Buddhist practice consists entirely of non conceptual practices for most formalist and non conceptual practices.
  • These somewhat naive ideas about Buddhism are apparently still popular enough even in the scientific community. And as Bose Watson Antoine de campo channel did in the videos, in competition stages, stages with sign or result sign practices cannot be performed without generation stages. The second class of practices is called Completion, Completion stages with signs with signs or completion stages with characteristics. These are subtle body yoga practices, advanced practices aimed at heightening energies of the body. Domain is one of these practices and Dream Yoga is another example. And finally, completion stages results sign Socci Nigma tradition and Mahamudra in Kagyu or Drukpa Kagyu traditions.
  • These are culminating non conceptual meditations aimed at recognizing the primordial nature of reality and recommend Tibetan beyond subjects are knowledgeable, the type of meditation these types of meditation are also called in scientific literature as non dual awareness, or open presence meditations.
  • And in this slide, I will talk about the differences between Vajrayana versus Theravada training. But Vajrayana training uses the body as well as its somatic and cognitive experiences as energy or fuel to get to a higher state of consciousness. As it could be seen from the first quote, the body’s Buddhist sensations, the Buddha cognitions, the Buddha mental formations as the Buddha, its most salient feature is divinization of the body and its cognitive faculties, which are the basis of tantric practices, body and cognition, those are the calls to completion to dissolution stages.
  • Also completion stages without sign as Maha Mudra absorption as I mentioned in a previous slide in Vajrayana training are performed of the generation stages and Walden complexes all isation So, here this conceptual visualization serves as a call to the final dissolution stages.
  • In contrast, in Theravada, and Mahayana, the body is regarded as the cane and defiled as in the second quote, the comfortable body is a container of salary. According to these traditions, the body should be transcended, and the mind with all its cognitive processes should be pacified and tranquilized. And what about scientific conceptualization of meditation?
  • In 1982, Benson reported that meditation he studied Transcendental Meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, causing a decrease in metabolism, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. in psychological terms, it means a state of deep relaxation or relaxation response. Since then, a lot of studies have replicated Benson’s findings, such as Sharma, that the person and mindfulness, for example, relaxation response kicks in just about 1015 minutes of mindfulness practice, significantly reducing stress.
  • As a result of these studies, meditation has been largely conceptualized as a relaxation response, a special type of relaxation which is in relaxation, during which your practitioner is deeply relaxed, but still can be highly on these type of oddness, which goes well with relaxation response is called tonic hardness of vigilance. And it means that the person is able to stay alert or perform a relatively simple task for a long time without any distraction. What is called also sustained attention of vigilance in attentional literature.
  • And in terms of categorization, two broad categories of meditation practices were proposed: focused attention such as shamaton and open monitoring, such as Vipassana, or mindfulness. So while focused attention meditation requires more focused attention, open monitoring meditation requires more distributed attention. While focused attention versus open monitor and categorization is clearly useful, since it allows to start some discussion about different types of meditation. The problem here is that Vice Vajrayana styles of meditation, including tantric Maha Mudra, for example, I will talk about later, do not fit at all into this categorization. So, clearly there is a need for a vice categorization of meditation.
  • And this is a brief introduction to the autonomic nervous system. This system is responsible for the control of internal organs and it is considered by all medical science theories to be outside the realm of conscious control. It has two branches parasympathetic and sympathetic, which are antagonistic to each other, the more one of them is activated and the other is deactivated.
  • So, the parasympathetic nervous system is associated with relaxation and rest and the sympathetic nervous system is involved in preparing the body to stress related activities also called fight or flight response. And then there is another state called arousal which is in between the states dominated by parasympathetic and sympathetic influences. Arousal occurs when attention is drawn to a stressor, because of its potential threat or novelty, and it is accompanied by the reduction of parasympathetic nervous system activity, so that sympathetic nervous system response can be triggered quickly, if it turns out to be necessary.
  • So, just to emphasize that arousal is not stress, but trust withdrawal from relaxation in preparation for flight or fight. arousal is a state colloquially known as adrenaline rush experience. It is a special state of high wakefulness. arousal is regulated by neurons that release a number of neurotransmitter activation, which produces an increase in neural activity, and subsequently heightened fossick (?) alertness. So a few words about fostering calmness. Fossick oddness is a dramatic temporary boost in focused attention resulting in a heightened sense of the capacity and readiness to respond to the threat.
  • In contrast to tone and color, this is a temporary boost not a long lasting ad, it is dramatic a person can perform at unprecedented level. I put here on the slide everything on the scale of different states of consciousness, to avoid the confusion between wakefulness and alertness. So, arousal is a state of high wakefulness. While relaxation response is close to sleep, ball state of relaxation and arousal could be accompanied by a different kind of our muscle tone and hardness.
  • During the relaxation response. As I mentioned, this is sustained attention or vigilance. And we have fossick alertness during arousal, taking all these into account and that Vajrayana Practices aim at a Chillon states of high wakefulness. The question then becomes whether basic Vajrayana practices can be more accurately conceptualized as an arousal response, rather than a relaxation response.
  • I broke my talk into two parts. In the first part, I will present results on study one and the main goal of part one of my talk is to present research evidence that in fact, Vajrayana practices could be more accurately described as arousal response accompanied by corresponding physical fitness.
  • In the second part of my talk, this will be recorded as a separate presentation, I will focus more on competition stages with and without sign and specifically on my research on Domo meditation conducted at the Czech Nunnery in Tibet, and also my recent study conducted in Bhutan, which compare neurophysiological correlates of sutra Maha Mudra was found.
  • The goal of study one was to contrast Theravada and Vajrayana meditation practices in terms of arousal versus relaxation. And also you wanted to reexamine focused attention versus open monitor and categorization. We use two practices from Vajrayana tradition, such as the self utilization as a focused meditation focused attention meditation and emptiness meditation from blockchain tradition, so the focus on our empty nature of reality.
  • Emptiness meditation was used as open monitoring. As for Theravada, we also used to practice because the Nam, which is a type of shamarpa, requires focus on the visual object. And we chose this type of shamatha to control for visual aspects since the Self Realization also requires digitalization. And then we use the personnel as an open monitoring type.
  • Theravada practitioners, while long term meditators from talent with an average of eight years of meditation experience, and we’ve had nine of us Vajrayana practitioners from search and monitoring with about seven and a half years of meditation experience. And these are their other practices and specifically Kazino meditation, which requires concentration on different objects representing the color discs. And then the personnel which practitioners focus on the press. But when attention wanders away, they’re instructed to print it back and recognize the content occupying the mind.
  • And these are all Vajrayana meditations, specifically the the self realization was was chosen as generation stage practice and then emptiness meditation which is a type of non conceptual meditation and transforms auction foundation and Ricci meditator aspires to achieve awareness devoid of any conceptualization. Manipulations of autonomic nervous systems are closely related to heart activity and heart rate variability HRV HRV is one of the main markers of autonomic nervous system activity. And it refers to the beat to the alteration of the heart almost simply to acceleration or deceleration of the heart rate.
  • During HRV analysis electrocardiographic EKG high frequency HF HRV extracted and then increased indicates parasympathetic activation, that is relaxation. And this is quite clear our relationship the highest increase in HF, the higher parasympathetic activity, it’s not that simple for arousal also we can use HDR decrease as indicator for arousal but we also need to control for LF low frequency should not go up as well as ratio the control ratio.
  • In this study, we measured EG to investigate our hypothesis that Theravada practices caused parasympathetic activity and Vajrayana practices caused arousal. We also collected e.g. electro electron and holographic data to compare brain dynamics of us Vajrayana versus Tera Vaada practitioners and finally, to compare cognitive performance of the practitioners before and immediately after their meditations, we administered them to computerized working memory tests which required our attention. The diagram in the bottom left illustrates the sequence of the practices where the practitioners first perform Cassina and then the persona and provides Vajrayana for the Self Realization and then emptiness since this is how these practitioners usually perform these meditations.
  • And here’s the results of our HRV analysis. The vertical axis represents HF HRV and the horizontal axis represents different types of meditative practices. The data above the horizontal axis mean relaxation and below around So, as you can see, while Kassina does not show any particular changes, the person on this light blue color shows significant relaxation response; this is a significant increase in HF.
  • Now, if you look at the the and emptiness these red are columns you can see significant decrease in in HF so actually this means around so they also control for airflow frequency and the ratio so all these HRV indicators indicates a state of arousal And since emptiness was performed after the the Self Realization, and there were no significant changes in H F from the emptiness it seems that emptiness meditation does not generate arousal by itself, but rather maintain arousal produced by peak.
  • These are the results of EEG analysis each graph shows how the power of particular frequency band delta alpha, beta and gamma change during each of the meditative practices, I will go in more detail about each year results in experiment three instead is three in the second part of my talk, but here I want to emphasize a few things. The first one if you look at the results for gamma power, you can see a very clear difference between Vajrayana and Theravada style meditation.
  • So, you see very clear very significant decrease of gamma power during the and emptiness meditations This is very different from all EEG literature so, far which reported increases for increases of gamma power for different meditative practices in particular for the person not decreases and I will return to this point later.
  • Second interesting finding is that for each frequency, for each frequency band, the graphs show very different neural dynamics for Vajrayana Versus Tera Vaada practices for example, it is the most significant decrease in both delta and beta power for genres and for Theravada practices and quiet as the opposite pattern for alpha and gamma power.
  • These are the results for cognitive tasks mental rotation and visual working memory both require focused attention these are computerized tasks, during mental rotation task, subjects are shown two shapes and they asked to rotate the mantle into alignment and indicate was there the shapes identical mirror robust of the officer that examined the alignment and visual memory tasks they shown an array of six objects after four seconds, these display disappears and they shown another object and asked the which the which from the six objects in the previous array this object corresponds to. So, these are the results and the vertical axis indicates efficiency in how many items are solved correctly per unit of time and the horizontal axis represents different meditative practices.
  • First, I plotted the DEM Kasina represented focused attention practices according to focus attention versus open monitor and categorization, and then emptiness and Vipassana represent an open monitoring meditation. As you can see on these graphs, the results showed that dramatic improvements are observed only after visual Anna types of meditation but not after the Ramada feels things we can conclude from here first, firstly, calmness is only observed after Vajrayana practices. Usually it is very difficult to get any improvement on these tasks. Since as with any focused attention tasks, they reflect the capacity of our attention system and in some way represents the level of intelligence. So the dramatic improvements of the Vajrayana are most impressive, these participants perform who the lead genius is supporting our processes. That was Vajrayana but no Theravada practitioners experience a state of arousal and corresponding fossa color. By the way, as the results of my other research showed, these improvements are washing out and performance returns to this line of the rounds 3045 minutes of rest. So these are in fact temporary improvements.
  • Second, focused attention versus open categorization is again not supported. Actually both guarding and Vipassana do not show any improvements and focus attention. So technically Sharma does not focus the attention. Both cousin and the person are most likely that vigilance attentional network sustained attention not focused attention.
  • And finally, for emptiness meditation, it again looks like this meditation does not produce a state of arousal in the classic caloric mess but just montagnes arousal produced by the effect is washing out. During emptiness you can see Two stars for the So, this is a very significant improvement and it remains significant but not at the same level during Anthonis meditation.
  • So, what can we conclude from this study? First, there is no support for conceptualization of meditation as all extensions as relaxation response. And also focused attention versus open monitoring categorization should also be revised. Whereas Theravada practices, in fact can be described as a relaxation response, but Vajrayana practices represent an arousal response, which is quite the opposite relaxation. Also the results of this study demonstrates that generation stages of Vajrayana generate the state of arousal and related further calmness, and it seems that this arousal is employed in emptiness meditation. In other words, it looks like generation stages generate a high level of wakefulness to the use subsequently in completion without sign stages. At a cognitive level arousal and physical organs lead to the very exceptional states, which are called Enhanced cognitive states, which is a state of law in which a person experiences dramatic enhancement of attentional and perceptual capacities and performs at an unprecedented level.
  • These types of low were reported by people of creative professions such as visual artist, musician chess players, and we know that these states also characterized by arousal and I conducted a few other studies shown very similar neurophysiological correlate correlates of the state of flow and generation stages of a triangle meditation meditations. So it might be an interesting connection between generations' stages and this exceptional performance was human performance research and I would be really interested in discussion at this conference. For example, how these generation stages could be used as a practice to train people to access a state of flow in a very controlled way, such as it could be done by experienced specially meditators.
  • Thank you and I will continue my presentation.